Online course in Languages & Cultures

Understanding English Dictionaries

Explore English dictionaries, from how they are compiled, the different types, to the latest lexicographic research.

  • Duration 6 weeks
  • Weekly study 6 hours
  • Learn Free
  • Extra benefits From $54 Find out more

Discover the fascinating world of English dictionaries

While many people use dictionaries, they may not know very much about them, especially if they’re online. We aren’t usually aware of which dictionary an entry has come from, why the word was included in the dictionary, how the dictionary compilers assembled this information, or how valid it is.

On this course you will explore the ins and outs of English dictionaries, learning from established dictionary editors and researchers. You will explore subjects such as trends in lexicographic research, possible dictionary entry components, and the content and wording of definitions.

What topics will you cover?

Over the six weeks of the course, you will explore the key areas of the curriculum below through readings, articles, videos and multimedia resources, quizzes, social engagement with fellow learners and active learning resources:

  • The reasons why we use dictionaries.
  • The differences between “landmark” dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary and less conventional products such as collaborative and crowdsourced dictionaries.
  • What goes into a dictionary – who decides, and how?
  • Dictionaries and dictionary information for different users.
  • The stages in corpus-based lexicography.
  • How meanings are created, why some words have more than one meaning, how lexicographers identify meanings and how meanings are explained in a dictionary.

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Compare the content and wording of definitions.
  • Develop your understanding of the lexicographical choices and computational methods surrounding the selection and ordering of word meanings.
  • Reflect on the range of possible dictionary entry components.
  • Assess the roles of language technology, corpora and crowdsourcing in the dictionary compilation process.
  • Explore some of the latest trends in lexicographic research.

Who is the course for?

This course is for anyone with a general interest in the English language. It might also be useful for those studying or teaching English, languages or lexicography.

Please note that the individuals listed below under the title “Who will you learn with?” may be subject to change.

Who will you learn with?

Hilary Nesi

Hilary Nesi

I am a Professor of English Language with research and teaching interests relating to corpus linguistics, English for Academic Purposes, and dictionary design and use.

Sharon Creese

Sharon Creese

An applied linguist with a PhD in dictionaries, new words & the media, I’ve taught at under-, postgraduate and secondary school levels. My commercial background is in dictionaries, PR and newspapers.

Barbara McGillivray

Barbara McGillivray

I'm a research fellow at The Alan Turing Institute and at the University of Cambridge. I conceived the MOOC on Dictionaries and contributed to its content. My research is on computational lexicography

Michael Rundell

Michael Rundell

I’m a lexicographer and corpus linguist, and have been working with corpora since the 1980s. I am the Editor of macmillandictionary.com, and run regular workshops in lexicography and lexical computing

Who developed the course?

Coventry secured gold in the UK Government’s 2017 Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and is University of the Year for Student Experience in The Times & The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019.

The Alan Turing Institute is the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, working in partnership with government, industry and universities around the UK.

Macmillan Education is part of the Springer Nature group that includes nature, Scientific American and Springer, prestigious brands that have published ground-breaking research for over 150 years.

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